Saturday, September 1, 2012

Musandam with Nomad Ocean Adventure: Fun diving with Bobbi and Nicki

Logged dives #1158-1159

Bobbi and I hadn’t dived the entire month of August.  I was away on holiday the whole month in Georgia and Armenia <>, hiking for exercise, no diving, and Bobbi was there with me for two weeks of that. I returned home a week ago but we spent my first weekend home resting and reuniting.  Then I had my first week of classes which is always stressful, and after 5 days of that, we decided to get some sleep Thursday after work and not drive over to Dibba to dive on Friday so as to take it easy that morning and not have to drive across the UAE until late afternoon.  For comic relief, we took Nicki with us and we arrived at Nomad Ocean Adventure in Oman Dibba right about dinner time.  It was perfect to arrive there after a relaxing day, fall into eating good grub and enjoying old friends and dive buddies, and eventually fall into bed and sleep comfortably all night, and not have to get up next morning until 8.

One of our acquaintances there was Khaled Al Sultani, a serious sea-life photographer younger than Dusty but larger than Glenn, and even more talented with a camera, whom we’d met on a recent trip to the Damaniyites. Here’s a link to his videos from that day <>.  On this day in Dibba, just one boat was going and we were all in the one, so we met again underwater where Khaled was photographing a pair of huge orange nudibranchs lying one atop the other under a panoply of purple processes.

We were at Octopus Rock. Current was right for it, just gentle to the north but not throwing us off the rock, vis was excellent, maybe 15-20 meters, and we’d descended in clouds of blue triggerfish. There were morays everywhere it seemed, large crayfish under ledges, caught in my torch beam, and then Khaled waved us over to see these phenomenal nudibranchs which he illuminated in his video lamps.

We rounded the rock in the blue coral patches and found some barracuda hulking in the far valley, lots of them. We found a ledge heading north-south, perhaps the wall Theo had told us about, and followed it south away from where we’d seen the barracuda, with every intent to retrace our fin kicks and recover the rock where we started. There were lovely things to see there and back, little blue crayfish with white feelers jutting out the rocks, morays, lion fish, Nicki found a black nudibranch but couldn’t find it to show it to me.  But she found a remarkable slipper lobster <>.  She also found a small scorpion fish in the sand just before we met divers coming the other way presumably from Octopus Rock.

But we weren’t at Octopus Rock.  We were at the submerged rock just north west of it.  It’s a complicated site.  I guess the north south wall we had found might lead us back to Octopus rock at its southern end, but that had not been obvious from there, it just seemed to fall away to depth.  But we rounded the little rock we’d arrived at instead and in fact it’s a great place to do a safety stop, about 5 meters deep, and swirling with jacks and smaller schools of fish weaving in and out of one another in shades of silver.

Back aboard our boat we broke out lunch, good fare on Nomad boats, sandwich wraps of mystery substance, but tasty rice or pasta, fruits, soft drinks.  After eating and changing tanks, we headed south along the coast past Ras Morovi  to Lulu Island.

At Lulu Island we kitted up and descended on our usual dive where we drop on the west of the island, then round it to the north, and proceed underwater on an easterly heading to reach the other islands just further that way, finning at 16 meters along the bottom.  As we started heading east Nicki managed to rile some aggressive clown fish in the anemones on the way over.  We arrived finally in the usual spot amidships on the far island north and we headed clockwise around the island.  As we were turning the north corner we came on a black marble cowtail ray nudged up against a rock, trying to pretend we couldn’t see him but getting agitated over the fact we wouldn’t go away.  Eventually we left him alone and completed our circle of the island to come into the gap between that one and the next further south.  There in the sand beyond we saw a ray flying past, possibly the same one we had seen earlier.  We tried to chase it but he was just too far away and faster than we were.  So we continued south along the wall, finding morays and lion fish, until toward the end of that island again we came on yet another cowtail ray nestled into the wall like the first one, and rippling his skirts in the same way.  This could have been three ray sightings, or two, or the same ray encountered three times on one dive. Whatever, he was interesting to observe at close quarters with his nose pointed up against a rock wall, and no means of escape short of panic.  We were careful to give him space so as not to trigger that.

We were in a bay of islands which we followed south and then predictably west, heading for the seaward side of the island where we’d put in on the landward side. Visibility wasn’t as good as on the first dive, lots of particles in the water, though still good visibility.  We were looking for turtles reputed to be here, and we were gliding over coral patches sloping down into sand that looked inviting to turtles and divers as well.  But eventually this petered out into sand sloping deeper to the north (funny, we were diving with a 4th guy named Peter J), and I thought if we headed west over that we’d arrive back at our island.  We were at about 17 meters, it was deeper to the north, so I tried to angle slightly to the south.  Ahead of us was a dark spot that seemed it could be land, but turned out to be mirage, just receding dark water.  We went over this until my air was approaching 50 bar, 45 minutes into the dive.  The only good thing was we had a 4th ray encounter, another cow tail, but not the same one, this one was bigger and took off in a cloud of bottom silt.
The group seemed content with this, but I was concerned and decided to surface and see where we were.  When I did so I discovered the current must have nudged us north because we were past the island we were shooting for and almost to the wall of the mainland. So I went down and led the rest of the way west over the sand to where the coral resumed with beautiful fish and we were able to conduct our safety stops with something to see.  

Because we were in a place we weren’t supposed to be I got out my SMB, or submersible marker buoy, otherwise known as a sausage.  They are tricky to deploy.  First timers are liable to get dragged up with them as they fill with air if they’re not quick enough to release the trigger letting the reel spool out the line as the sausage shoots upward. I got mine up fine and Nicki decided to deploy hers because there’s this thing among divers to see whose sausage is bigger and can be deployed fastest.  Mine was first, but Nicki wanted me to mention that hers was new. She had also come across a reel in the sand and plopped it in her BCD pocket.  These things can cost $70-$100 so it’s great if you find one.  

When we surfaced, again at 57 minutes, Peter told us we had missed seeing a trio of seahorses that Nicki was showing him, about the time I’d decided to surface to see where we were.  I thought "darn!" at the time, but we’ve seen lots of seahorses lately.  But when we were talking to Nicki about it in the car on the way home she said she didn’t see any seahorses.  Turned out they were pipefish, sort of a straight line version of a seahorse with a seahorse head and beak.  Nicki hadn’t mentioned them earlier because every time she was going to, Bobbi had said again how happy she was with her new mask which she bought in Texas after having problems with ill-fitting masks earlier in the summer in Philippines and Perhentien in Malaysia.  Her mask had developed a leak in the skirt just as we were leaving on that trip and the one she took with her hurt her nose with its plastic.  She bought a new one in Malapascua but that one was just as bad.  So when she was in Texas she bought one from a company that accommodated special faces.  Anyway that’s about all she talked about on the way home, and she wanted me to mention  it in my blog.

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